Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot dead on Friday, July 8, while giving a speech in the town of Nara. The news shocked the world and quickly made the front pages of mainstream media.
Abe was central in his country’s politics during the last decades. Still, he also left a strong legacy throughout Asia, especially for his role in developing the “Indo-Pacific” as a strategic corridor for all Southeast Asian countries and not only for Japan, China, and the United States.
His rapprochement with the United States and the Western world cost him the hostility of the Chinese communist regime, who took it upon themselves to demonize him using their propaganda media.
Until his death, Abe had significant influence in Japanese politics, especially within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). However, according to experts, a pro-Chinese faction within Japan will benefit from the death of the former Prime Minister.
Who was Shinzo Abe for Japan?
Abe was the prime minister with the most years of service in office in Japan, from 2006 to 2007 and from 2013 to 2020, when he resigned after suffering some health problems that prevented him from continuing his normal activity. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) continues to lead the country today.
Abe’s mandate was known for his firm foreign policy against communist and leftist threats. In addition, he strengthened his relationship with the United States, particularly with former President Donald Trump.
Lately, Abe has begun to regain some prominence in Asian politics, championing the cause of a free and peaceful Taiwan and urging the United States to consolidate a concrete relationship with Taiwan to dissuade the Chinese regime from invading it.
Abe publicly stated that “an emergency in Taiwan is an emergency in Japan,” a phrase he often repeated during his recent public statements. He even held a video conversation with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in March, repeating the call for the world to defend the island’s democracy.
“Last year, at a seminar held by a Taiwan think tank, I said that if Taiwan has a problem, then Japan has a problem, and the Japan–U.S. alliance also has a problem,” Abe told Tsai.
He reaffirmed his position, “Of course, this was a way of expressing my own sense of urgency, and I myself advocated the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The vast Indo-Pacific Ocean where Taiwan and Japan meet must be an ocean in which we can maintain freedom and openness.”
Nearly a month before his death, despite warnings and criticism from the Chinese regime, Abe again defied Beijing by issuing remarks at the Axios Outlook Symposium. He encouraged Western countries, especially the United States, to “press for China to give up its goal of militarily seizing Taiwan,” Taiwan News paraphrased.
Repudiatory reaction of the Chinese regime to Shinzo Abe’s death
As expected, the international policy promoted by Abe provoked the absolute contempt of the Chinese communist regime. During the last months, it activated its propaganda apparatus to discredit and defame the image of the former Japanese prime minister in China.
The smear campaign against Abe reached such an extent that, when the news of his death was published, some media of the Chinese regime referred to him in a repudiatory and speculative way.
One of these media was the state-owned Global Times, which within hours of the death of the former conservative leader, published a note stating that it could “increase the geopolitical security risk in Northeast Asia.” It argues that right-wing forces in Japan would use this incident to boost the conservative trend in Japanese politics, which openly promotes the idea of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Hours later, the Global Times published another story: “Abe is remembered in China as a controversial figure who ruined his own contribution to bilateral relations,” calling him a traitor and divisive in his country’s politics.
In its attempt to crumble the image of the deceased among the Chinese public, the Global Times article paraphrases Lu Hao, a little-known university researcher. Lu Hao asserted, without showing any supporting evidence, that Abe’s death could stimulate an alleged Japanese extreme right-wing to “promote populist, xenophobic and even extreme political goals.”
The effect of the anti-Abe propaganda in China paid off. It was evident on Friday when local social networks exploded with posts gleefully celebrating the assassination of the former Japanese prime minister.
Are pro-China factions in Japan getting stronger?
Standing up to the communist regime the way Abe did takes great conviction and courage. A question now arises as to whether there are personalities within the Party that Abe led willing to continue along the same critical line.
Masumi Kawasaki, a professor of international relations at Tokyo International University, interviewed Shinzo Abe in July 2021. He expressed concern that after the abrupt passing of the political leader, a favorable scenario exists for the Chinese regime and pro-Chinese factions in the Japanese Foreign Ministry to resume and deepen Japan-China relations.
Kawasaki asserts that the Abe faction of the Liberal Democratic Party currently has no one capable of leading the confrontation against the Chinese regime. Additionally, current Prime Minister Kishida’s faction has been much more relaxed about relations with China than the Abe faction.
“This is a favorable direction for the CCP and it is also an opportunity for the pro-China factions in the Japanese Foreign Ministry to improve Japan-China relations,” Kawasaki said.
Abe has undoubtedly set a significant precedent in challenging the Chinese regime, bringing Japan closer to Western powers and generating a large following that embraces the same conservative and nationalist sentiments.
The next few weeks will be crucial to know how the figures position themselves within the Liberal Democratic Party and national politics. From there, future relations with the Chinese regime and the rest of the international community will be determined.